Unheralded Wellington loose forward Adam Hill probably never dreamt that he'd be one of the focal points of the Hurricanes final preseason match in Levin.
Neither did anybody else to be fair, but with loose forwards Victor Vito and Brad Shields (both 6-8 weeks) out with knee injuries tonight's match against the Crusaders match has taken an unexpected turn.
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett was yesterday mulling over how his loose trio might look for the season opener against the Sharks in just 10 days time.
By the close of play Blade Thomson was starting at No 8 with Vito withdrawn following scans which revealed he'd damaged the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee during training on Wednesday.
Hill will play at blindside with Jack Lam at openside and Faifili Levave and Ardie Savea in the reserves.
With Levave short on fitness due to shin splints and Savea possibly being earmarked for an impact role in South Africa, Hill could emerge from wider training group to a likely starter if he can nail his chance in Levin.
The 1.90m Gore-born former Otago representative's rise speaks volumes for how quickly things can change in Super Rugby.
Two weeks ago the Hurricanes looked to have the most damaging set of loose forward in the country. Now they are dabbling in the unknown.
Savea and Levave will of course be keen to change any thoughts of the new boy sneaking into the starting side.
And one of them may get the chance to do that via a head to head battle with All Black captain Richie McCaw in the second half, depending on whether the Crusaders play their reserve loose forward at openside or No 8.
Hammett might also be a tad nervous about his midfield where Hadleigh Parkes finds himself at second five-eighth after Tim Bateman's mid-week knee injury.
Parkes may not be flashy, but he's an experienced and solid operator and the Hurricanes will be hoping he can quickly find his feet between first five-eighth Beauden Barrett and centre Conrad Smith.
Rather than lighting up the Domain in attack, Hammett wants to see his midfield help set the tone for the sort of defence he hopes will define the side's Super Rugby campaign.
"We were the third worst defence last year, so that's a really big focus ... you don't go from third last to first or third just like that. It takes a long time to develop so we've put a lot of time into that," he said.
"For us one of the areas we've battled with in the past is whenever there are breaks or missed tackles we've struggled to tie in really quickly and not let those five metre or half breaks against us become 10, 20 and 30 metres."
The other area Hammett wants to see his side nail in their final warm up match is the set piece.
"We have new scrummaging now. the scrum goes for four seconds longer on average. Its an isometric thing now rather than a speed thing, so its all based on power.
"There's been a massive amount of work gone into that area. We've had a big focus on our lineouts and the speed and tempo, so there's a lot we've been working on."
The Crusaders tight five provide a perfect dress rehearsal for a Hurricanes unit that can expect a torrid time in Durban.
Loose head prop Ben Franks' battle with brother Owen will be a feature, but Hammett will be more interested in how Mark Abbott performs at lock against Luke Romano and Dominic Bird.
The Hurricanes will name a squad of 27 to travel to South Africa on Saturday for matches against the Sharks and Stormers.
Hurricanes: Marty Banks, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith (c), Hadleigh Parkes, Alapati Leiua, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Blade Thomson, Jack Lam, Adam Hill, Mark Abbott, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Ben Franks. Reserves: Motu Matu'u, Ash Dixon, John Schwalger, Brendon Edmonds, Chris Eves, James Broadhurst, Mark Reddish, Faifili Levave, Ardie Savea, Callum Gibbins, Chris Smylie, Billy Guyton, James Marshall, Cardiff Vaega, Julian Savea, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Andre Taylor.
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Johnny McNicholl, Ryan Crotty (c), Tom Taylor, Nafi Tuitavake, Colin Slade, Willi Heinz, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett: Reserves: Corey Flynn, Tim Perry, Nepo Laulala, Sam Whitelock, Richie McCaw, Jordan Taufua, Andy Ellis, Tyler Bleyendaal, Rob Thompson, Zac Guildford, Reynold Lee-Lo.
Kick off: 4pm
- The Dominion Post
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